Norfolk Heritage Centre LGBT HM Report

The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has always, historically done something for LGBT History Month, even if it is just a table displaying our Loud and Proud book collection. This year Rachel Ridealgh, community librarian for local studies wanted to do something different, as a member of staff, Jo, who also studies Queer History at Goldsmiths volunteered at Norfolk Heritage Centre (based in the Millennium Library) to support the British Museum LGBT exhibition Desire, Love, Identity. The exhibition is coming from 8th June to 31st August.

Here are some of the books that we read over the 28 days of LGBT History Month, in a little project that thankfully worked due to the effort of different people volunteering just 5 minutes of their day.

It was not just Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library staff, county librarians. Helena Last and Beth Southard came up from County Hall, from the other side of the city on separate days to read to small groups that happened to be in the library at midday and fancied listening to an inclusive story. A volunteer from the People from Abroad Team(Norfolk County Council’s social services team for refugees and asylum seekers) also contributed on one occasion. We had a story a day, same time, same place, under the rainbow flag.

The project was not really advertised, but the small intimate storytimes had great value in a number of ways. Firstly, staff that wanted to polish their storytelling skills had the opportunity to do so, also staff that don’t always get the opportunity to interact with the communities they work so hard for were able to see and feel the value of storytelling. Also, reading out loud to a small group of children can give their grown ups confidence in their own abilities and they may model that behaviour or come to a library again!

With the LGBT+ “Desire, Love, Identity” British Museum exhibition coming to the library in the Summer we wanted people to be more aware that libraries are a great place for the LGBT+ community. To plant the seeds of this inclusivity, we wanted to start by celebrating LGBT History Month, by flying a rainbow flag. Every year we do try to do something for LGBT History month, but after seeing the Bishopsgate Institute Library in London, which is adorned inside with nearly every LGBT+ flag going, we thought it would be lovely if we could do something similar. We were very lucky, as Norwich Pride lent us nine flags that really brightened the library. Here are just two of the nine we had!

Another fantastic development that was inspired by our exhibition coming, was our callout for young community curators. We had a handful of young people turn up for the first meeting in January and we now meet every fortnight, with numbers increased to nine. They really are a talented bunch. They have developed their own Zine to run alongside the exhibition and they are hosting their own Zine Workshop whilst the exhibition is here. They have also started on their own LGBT+ interpretations of the items coming from the British Museum and are keen to work with any local ephemera that we may have to compliment that.

We successfully used our social media platforms to get people in the spirit of things, so we sent out an LGBT History Month #lgbthm19 Tweet every day! We have certainly reached different members of the community that would not normally see our posts by all the new ‘retweets’ and ‘likes’ we have received!

We also managed to have an extra special inclusive storytime on the day that the Early Years Library reopened, following refurbishment, with a drag act Miss Dee Liscious reading the lovely true story “and Tango makes Three” along with staff reading other inclusive stories, followed by a little rainbow badge making craft event.

Miss Dee won Miss Charity Drag UK recently, so we were lucky to have her here.

We also held our first “Queer History Donation Station” event at NML on Wednesday 20th February, where we invited the public to donate material representing Norfolk’s LGBT history. We painted a filing cabinet bright pink ( with kind copy-right permission ideas from Damien from Queerseum) and used it as a focal point for our donation station.

We had a fantastic response – we had donations from the Norfolk LGBT+ Project, the Norwich Gay Men’s Health Project, information about footballer Justin Fashanu, personal photographs and mementoes, and Norwich Pride donated their archive covering the past ten years of Pride. Since the event the donations keep coming in. The material is now indexed and stored in Norfolk Heritage Centre, and has formed the basis of Norfolk’s first ever LGBT History archive in collaboration with Norwich Pride. The event was featured in the EDP and Evening News: https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/norfolk-lgbt-history-archive-queer-histories-1-5901087

Since then, we have taken the Queer History Donation Station (and the big pink filing cabinet) on tour to one of the branch libraries for Transgender Day of Visibility and plan to do the same at some (perhaps all) of our 47 branch libraries to collect information from all over the county, not just Norwich.

It was an amazing LGBT History month and we certainly miss the colours at the Millennium Library now that the flags have come down, but look forward to the launch of the Desire, Love, Identity exhibition on 8th June.